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Southwest pilots authorize strike ahead of summer travel season – union slams airline for 'operational disasters,' 'lack of leadership'

Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines pilots recently voted to authorize a potential strike after three years of contract negotiations and ahead of the busy summer travel season.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, representing over 10,000 of the airline's pilots, released the results of the strike authorization vote on Thursday.

Voting was scheduled to run through the end of the month, but after only a week and a half, the union stated voting had closed with 98% member participation. Of those who voted, 99% agreed to authorize a strike.

"The pilots of Southwest Airlines have already made their voices heard about the operational disasters and the lack of progress after three-plus years of stagnant negotiations," the union wrote in a Thursday statement.

SWAPA President Casey Murray slammed the airline for its "lack of leadership."

"This is a historic day, not only for our pilots, but for Southwest Airlines," Murray stated. "The lack of leadership and the unwillingness to address the failures of our organization have led us to this point. Our pilots are tired of apologizing to our passengers on behalf of a company that refuses to place its priorities on its internal and external customers."

"Today, our Pilots have empowered our Negotiating Committee Chair, Captain Jody Reven, to petition the National Mediation Board to release us to self-help imminently at which time we will follow the process set forth by the Railway Labor Act and continue toward a strike. We want our passengers to understand that we do not take this path lightly and are disheartened that the LUV airline has gotten so far away from the values set forth by Herb Kelleher," Murray added, referring to the Southwest Airlines co-founder.

"We want our customers to be prepared for the path ahead and make arrangements on other carriers so that their plans through the summer and fall are not disrupted," he concluded.

SWAPA aims to overhaul Southwest's scheduling practices and improve its operations after the December 2022 disruption that caused the airline to cancel roughly 16,700 flights in 10 days. The operational disaster cost the company up to $825 million and resulted in many customers declaring they would avoid flying with Southwest in the future.

With the December meltdown still fresh on customers' minds, Southwest hit another snag in April when a brief system outage caused approximately 1,700 flights to be delayed.

Despite the resounding support to strike from the overwhelming majority of the airline's pilots, it does not mean they are likely to do so in the near future. In order to lawfully walk off the job, the airline union would first need approval from the National Mediation Board. Additionally, Congress and the president may step in to prevent a strike.

Southwest Airlines assured customers that the authorization vote would have "no impact on our scheduled operations."

"We are staffed and prepared to welcome travelers for their summer travel plans," the airline wrote in a Thursday statement. "In fact, a strike can occur only after multiple steps in the Railway Labor Act collective bargaining process are exhausted, including the National Mediation Board releasing both parties from mediation to end talks."

Southwest Airlines Vice President of Labor Relations Adam Carlisle stated, "Our negotiating team continues to bargain in good faith and work toward reaching a new agreement to reward our Pilots."

Carlisle noted that the result of the vote "does not change our commitment to the negotiation process."

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